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Quizzing Ashcroft
Senators ask tough questions --- how are the answers?

Thanks to Scott Miller for compiling these questions and answers. Drop a note to Scott to join his mailing list.

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Day 2 -- January 17 (Exchange On James Hormel. Leahy, Ashcroft & Sen. Orrin Hatch R-UT)

LEAHY: Everybody has here, and I know a number of senators have had other confirmation hearings and have been balancing their time.

Let me begin. In October of '97, President Clinton nominated James Hormel to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg. He was an eminently qualified nominee. He had a distinguished career as a lawyer, a businessman, an educator, a philanthropist. He had diplomatic experience as the alternate U.S. representative to the UN General Assembly.

Luxembourg's ambassador to the U.S.--because what we always do with an ambassador is we check first with the country that he'd be sent to see if he'd be acceptable. They said the people of their country would welcome him. A clear majority of senators were on record as saying they would vote for his confirmation.

That vote never occurred, because it was blocked. In the Foreign Relations Committee, only two senators voted against him, Senator Ashcroft and Senator Helms. I'm told, Senator Ashcroft, you did it without attending the hearing or submitting questions or statements for the record.

You did say at the luncheon with reporters that, quote, "People who are nominated to represent this country have to be evaluated for whether they represent the country well and fairly. His conduct and the way in which he would represent the United States is probably not up to the standard that I would expect."

It would appear that you're referring to his sexual orientation, although this is a man that, while you placed a hold on his nomination, all but one other member, Republican and Democrat, in the Foreign Relations Committee voted for him. Former Secretary of State, in President Reagan's administration, George Schultz strongly supported him.

After you voted against his nomination in committee, James Hormel wrote a letter.

He asked to meet with you regarding his qualifications. He followed up with a number of phone calls to your office. You did not return the phone calls. Your staff did not. You refused to meet him, which is similar to a complaint made by Congressman Conyers, who shared concerns about your nomination.

Now, I know it is traditional for senators to extend the president's nominees the courtesy of a meeting. I don't think I've ever declined a meeting with any nominee of any president when they've asked to. I know of no senator who has refused to meet with you when you've asked.

So, I'm asking you this: Did you block his nomination from coming to a vote because he is gay?

ASHCROFT: I did not. And I will enforce the law equally without regard to sexual orientation if appointed and confirmed as attorney general. Let me just address these issues a little bit since they've been raised.

LEAHY: Why did you refuse--why did you vote against him? And why were you involved in an effort to block his nomination from ever coming to a vote?

ASHCROFT: Well, frankly, I had known Mr. Hormel for a long time. He had recruited me, when I was a student in college, to go to the University of Chicago Law School.

LEAHY: He was your dean, was he not?

ASHCROFT: At the University of Chicago, he was an assistant dean at the law school who, I believe, had focused his efforts on admissions process and things like that. The dean of the law school, if I'm not mistaken, was a fellow named Phil Neal (ph).

But I did know him. I made a judgment that it would be ill-advised to make him ambassador based on the totality of the record. I did not believe that he would effectively represent the United States in that particular post.

But I want to make very clear: Sexual orientation has never been something that I've used in hiring in any of the jobs, in any of the offices I've held. It will not be a consideration in hiring at the Department of Justice. It hasn't been for me. Even if the executive order would be repealed, I would still not consider sexual orientation in hiring at the Department of Justice because I don't believe it relevant to the responsibilities.

LEAHY: To what extent, though, the--I'm not talking about hiring at the department, I'm talking about this one case, James Hormel. If he had not been gay, would you have at least talked to him before you voted against him? Would you have at least gone to the hearing? Would you have at least submitted a question?

ASHCROFT: I'm not prepared to redebate that nomination here, today. I am prepared to say that I knew him. I made a judgment that it would be ill-advised to make him ambassador. And as a senator, I made the decision that, based on the totality of his record, that I didn't think he would effectively represent the United States.

LEAHY: And it was your conclusion that all the other senators on the Foreign Relations Committee, with the exception of Senator Helms, were wrong; you were right. That George Schultz, who had been the secretary of state under President Reagan was wrong, and you were right. And the people of Luxembourg, who had the full record on Mr. Hormel were wrong, and you were right. And you did that without either meeting with them, going to the hearing asking a single question, or even answering his letter.

ASHCROFT: No, I did not conclude that I was right and they were wrong, I exercised the responsibility I had as a senator to make a judgment. I made that judgment. I expected other senators to reach judgments on their own. They have a responsibility to do that. I have a responsibility to do what I did. And based on the totality of the record and my understanding, I made that judgment. I did not pass judgment on to other senators or upon those who endorsed his nomination.

LEAHY: But part of that judgment was to help make sure that these other senators never got a chance to vote on Mr. Hormel on the floor. So, basically, you substituted your judgment for what appears--at least by those who stated their willingness to vote for him, you substituted your judgment for a majority of the United States Senate.

ASHCROFT: I don't believe I put a hold on Mr. Hormel's nomination.

LEAHY: Never?

ASHCROFT: I don't believe I put a hold on Mr. Hormel's nomination.

LEAHY: If you find otherwise, feel free to correct the record on that.

Senator Hatch?

HATCH: As one who openly supported Mr. Hormel, because of his experience, you made the decision, based upon your knowledge, the totality of the evidence, and as a senator, you had a right to do so, is that right?

ASHCROFT: That's correct.

HATCH: I mean, we can disagree around once in a while around here. Or do we just have to play the political correctness game right on down the line?

ASHCROFT: Well, I made a judgment based on the totality of the record, on one...

HATCH: I accept that.

Next > Feingold Gets Tough > Page 1, 2, 3, 4,


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